Kit Vaughan, Advocacy Coordinator for CARE’s Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network is in Rio for next week's climate conference. He writes to his young son for Father's Day:
My dear Alfred, June 17, 2012
Today is Father’s Day and you just turned six months old. It is the first time for me to celebrate being a father and I want to demonstrate my love and commitment to you - even though I can’t be with you on this special occasion.
I am now in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a country far away from our home in the UK, where more than 100 world leaders will gather next week to discuss and decide on the future of our Earth. The very planet you grow up on. I hope one day you will understand why I spend so much of my time far away from you and that you will forgive me for that.
I am here with my colleagues from CARE and other civil society networks to influence global leaders to take better care of our world. They must urgently wake up and address the reality of our damaged planet. Some of the leaders come from powerful, rich countries. Others govern very poor states, where children like you go to bed hungry every night and where many die before they even reach their first birthday.
Alfred, you are a lucky boy as not every child is as fortunate as you are; not every child in this world can eat whenever it is hungry, see a doctor when it is sick and is protected from war or conflict. As a wealthy society we have developed at the expense of our planet’s wellbeing and that of its poorest and most vulnerable people. Your luck of being born in the right place at the right time and the richness of opportunities ahead of you has come at a price: all too often those opportunities are at the cost of those who are not so fortunate to grow up in the UK, in Europe or the US.
Over the last several hundred years our economic growth has delivered prosperity for a global minority – mainly people living in industrialized countries. Globally we have exploited our natural resources to achieve growth. We have cut down forests, polluted rivers and oceans, mined minerals and leached the very soil we need to grow food. Chopping down our trees, exhausting our land, using cars and airplanes and producing dirty energy excessively releases harmful greenhouse gases into the air which cause the Earth’s global temperatures to rise.
We call this effect global warming or global climate disruption. It is already having devastating impacts on our planet. But it will get much worse unless we take urgent action right now to reduce the emissions of gases but also to help people to adapt to these new realities.
Climate change is causing more intense cyclones, flooding, droughts. But while industrialized countries can afford to protect themselves from these impacts, people living in poor countries, who are so dependent upon a stable climate to produce food and earn an income, cannot. They already have to survive with so little, any disaster can destroy their lives in the blink of an eye. They are not responsible for causing climate change, their countries have not developed as much and as fast as we did. Yet perversely they are the ones most suffering from climate change impacts.
Whilst there have been successes to lift poor people out of poverty, it has clearly not been enough. Today, one in seven persons in this world does not have enough money to buy basic food, clothes or water. You will now probably ask why it is not possible for everybody to grow equally. And why should small children, who have done nothing to cause the problems should die as innocent victims of other peoples excess. It’s unfair, you will say. And you are right.
Twenty years ago, world leaders met in Rio de Janeiro for their first Rio Conference. They already realized back then that our planet’s pathway is unsustainable and out of control. They boldly decided upon many agreements to tackle climate change, environmental degradation, desertification and other global challenges. But they have made little progress. Today, the situation is far worse.
If the world is in such an unsustainable and unjust state, if leaders knew the challenges back then, and they know the solutions, why don’t they do anything? Here in Rio it seems to me as though leaders of this world lack the real will, integrity and political ambition to fight for the future of our planet, a future built on justice and where everybody benefits from growth and development.
We need a radical change and unprecedented world leadership to address this global injustice and to set the Earth on a more equal and sustainable track. So that is why I am here. I want to help put pressure on government leaders to deliver what the planet and its people want and need. I am not alone in this. There are thousands of organizations and citizens, each one making personal sacrifices to create a better future for all of us.
In twenty years, you will be old enough to understand this complex reality better. I hope that by then you can laugh at this letter and tell me: “Dad, these lines are outdated. Our world is way more sustainable now – we actually have an equal future.” I hope that you will grow up in a world where everybody, poor and rich, can make their own choices and where everybody works hand in hand to create a healthier planet for all. That’s why I cannot be with you today as we all have a lot of work ahead of us to create a much better future.
Much love always and forever,
CARE has launched its Rio+20 report: “One Planet – One Future: Equity and resilience for sustainable development” on June 13. You can download it here from www.careclimatechange.org/publications.